“When you’re not too good at writing, you start to narrate your life as someone who is good at writing. You take the thoughts in your head and analyze why each one revealed itself and the order in which they manifested. You hear the way you’d like your story to sound and soon enough you’ve characterized yourself, in your head, for none to hear. When you organize your thoughts like this, you begin to have inauthentic ones. I’ve always liked to write down my thoughts because it made it easier to have an identity. It didn’t allow you to be too many people, at least not at once.”
These were the words I had scribbled down at a rest stop somewhere near Macon, Georgia, and they were just a segment of a series of rambling, contemplative thoughts that become inevitable to those trekking a grueling stretch of highway. On this particular trip back to Florida, my mind was melted from 48 consecutive hours of house hunting and all the joys that come along with it. I had just graduated from college, and I was moving to Atlanta for no real reason other than to, well, make a move. I was a little a nervous.
Up until this particularly dark stretch of highway, (it was all dark, but you were sleeping, so, dark-er) I had been thinking about: how spoiled rotten we were to be choosing between lofts to adopt in the city, the way your feet smelled with the heater on, and how proud I was of myself for driving with enough care to get you at least half-asleep. You “don’t like riding on the passenger side.” As it was, I had already had some times with myself on the Middle Georgia interstate. It was either a dreadfully thoughtful or (if you were lucky) entirely thoughtless place. I had been buzzing with nervous energy for the last few days and was too fatigued to worry anymore, but not quite enough to shut my mind off.
I wanted to be home, but I just didn’t feel like hitting the gas anymore. We’re all familiar with that one: the “I just don’t feel like it,” maybe later…but not now. The road home didn’t exactly provide the later option. Before I could resist it, I conjured up a metaphor and contemplated the prospect of idling versus progressing. It was easy to obsess about idling simply because it was something I didn’t have to do. I could lift off of that pedal and we would sail on guiltlessly down I-75 until we slowed and we stopped and we eventually, you know, started again. Or, out of shear dread of the experiment becoming anticlimactic, we would be rammed by a semi truck and all discussion of progress and stand-stills would become null and void. That was the thing, there was no steady progress as far as I could see- it was either idle or wild. All or nothing, that was the way of the world! None of this climbing Mt. Fuji, “but slowly, slowly!” No, no, let’s go fast or not at all. When you’re terrified of having nothing, the road says: “Well, this is as much your stop as anywhere, I can show you nothing.” And you’ll see darkness, and safety, and comfort, and maybe the person in your passenger seat will see boredom, and he’ll press on to the nearest gas station while you find loneliness in South Georgia pondering “Think Tifton!” billboards (but God help you if you strand your mind in a Southern town straight out of a Dr. Seuss book), and voila! you’ll just “be,” but it won’t be happy and it certainly won’t be wild.
I manage to snap out of it and flash forward to tail lights, lots of tail lights, like, maybe a ten of ‘em, because we’re in Valdosta now. You stir and your arm’s fighting mine for the armrest. I’m pretty sure you don’t notice and I decide I don’t mind…but you glance up at me and smile. You immediately gather up the remains of a dream you’ve had and I perk up because I love to hear your dreams but mostly just your voice. It can be a great escape from the one that’s in my head. I wonder why I would ever stop driving with you.
…I wouldn’t. But the beauty of it all it is that if I had to stop, you’d tolerate it. Sometimes you need someone to say, “Hey, it’s okay to coast for now.” You do that for me. But just being in your company gives me the motivation to keep striving, to be daring, and courageous, and most importantly, hopeful. Having a co-pilot has taught me not be weary of idling, but to embrace it when the time is right, and freshen your mind to make wild leaps toward your next venture.
Its the lucky ones that get to experience the road with those dear to them. The idle and the wild alike can never be too sure what the interstate will have in mind…one can only hope it includes boiled peanuts and lots of mix CDs.